There was a profound failure by much of the Australian media to accurately report the substance of President Trump’s statement announcing recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Contrary to the media’s portrayal of the speech as a blanket acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump included the careful qualification that “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”
This vital caveat leaves open the possibility for a Palestinian state to have its capital in a part of the city. But it was omitted in many of the initial reports on Dec. 7/8.
This includes the Herald Sun, Australian Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, Age, ABC TV “News” and SBS TV “World News”, and Channels 7, 9 and 10 amongst others.
The key quote did, however, appear in a minor Australian report (Dec. 8) on the Trump Administration’s parallel diplomatic track for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Must Have Mustafa
On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Dec.7), Trump’s qualification was quoted. Listeners heard him say that he wants a “great deal” for Palestinians and Israelis and recognition does not indicate a “departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement… we are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty.”
But host Fran Kelly then seemed to completely forget it, questioning veteran Palestinian advocate Mustafa Barghouti as if Trump had made no qualification on recognition.
Barghouti compared Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to “support[ing] the German occupation of Poland because it’s a reality.”
He said Trump had “aborted his own peace initiative before it is born” and has become “a participant in violating international law” and “participating in a war crime of annexing occupied territories by force.”
Kelly did note that Trump said he supports the two-state solution, but Barghouti said that was meaningless.
A Breakfast wrap
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop did not answer Fran Kelly’s question of whether it made peace harder to achieve, instead reiterating the need for both sides to negotiate a peace deal.
Bishop correctly put the comments by regional leaders that the announcement risks regional conflict in their proper context, explaining, “I am deeply concerned at the level of unrest in the region now. The fault lines between Turkey and the Kurds. Between the Sunnis and Shia. Between the Saudis and Iranians… and would not support any action that would add to that.”
Bishop seemed to imply both sides have undermined previous peace talks, saying, “the United States has for a very long time sought to broker a peace and we’ve seen many examples where a peace has been mediated but then rejected by one or other side.”
Of course, the reality is that substantive offers of a state in 2000, 2001 and 2008 were rejected or not responded to by the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the 2010 and 2014 talks failed because Palestinian President Abbas refused to continue them.
ABC reporter Anne Barker’s “analysis” appeared to indicate she either must have failed to listen to or read Trump’s speech or just plain ignored it (Dec. 7).
According to Barker, Trump’s earlier “promise to advance the Israel-Palestinian peace process… will be meaningless now [he] has announced unilateral recognition. It will immediately undermine the peace process by placing Israeli claims above the Palestinians’. And it will effectively end the Palestinians’ dream of Jerusalem becoming even a shared capital under a two-state solution.”
A second Barker analysis that day was no better, including the statement that “the two-state solution is an impossible goal. The changing facts on the ground mean there is no longer a contiguous land for Palestinians to create their own state.”
Wrong. The Israeli NGO “Peace Now”, which has argued against settlements for 30 years, has said the two-state solution is not dead, and publishes a map that backs up the truth that settlements cover less than two per cent of the West Bank, while a Palestinian state can definitely be made contiguous.
ABC Washington correspondent Zoe Daniel said Trump’s motive for recognising Jerusalem was due “in part…[to]… wanting to fulfil an election promise… It’s also believed there was pressure from wealthy Jewish donors to his campaign.”
Daniel left out Trump’s evangelical base as a key group motivating him, not “Jewish donors”. Indeed, American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton last year.
She also drifted into hyperbole saying Trump will claim the announcement as a “domestic political victory but it looks like a costly one for the world,” ABC TV”News” (Dec. 7).
Elsewhere, even a problematic news.com.au analysis (Dec. 8) which also mentioned Jewish donors at least gave greater weight to Trump’s “evangelical Christian base.”
TV turn off
On Dec. 8, the Channel 7 “News” report on the announcement was titled “Capital Punishment,” which is a wholly inappropriate use of the term for a government sanctioned death penalty.
Channel 10 “News” was even more lurid – not to mention factually inaccurate – stating that “this is the latest knife’s edge on which world peace sits, thanks once again to the razor tongue of Donald Trump. His declaration that Jerusalem is the new capital of Israel claimed its first blood.”
Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949.
Ishaan Tharoor in the Australian Financial Review (Dec. 9) and Times UK reporter Catherine Philip in the Australian (Dec. 8) both wrongly claimed Jerusalem had little interest for the largely secular Zionist movement’s early leadership.
According to Philip, Israel’s “nascent leadership did not protest” that the UN Partition Plan proposed internationalising the city and “it was only after the Arab nations refused and went to war against the new state, ending with an armistice line through Jerusalem, that Israel made the western half it controlled its capital.”
There was no open protest because Jewish leaders feared their opposition to internationalisation risked endangering the whole Partition Plan.
But Jerusalem was always central to Zionist plans – indeed the word Zionism comes from “Zion”, another name for Jerusalem.
Ben Gurion explained the reality in a speech in 1949: “From the establishment of the Provisional Government we made the peace, the security and the economic consolidation of Jerusalem our principal care. In the stress of war, when Jerusalem was under siege, we were compelled to establish the seat of Government in Tel Aviv. But for the State of Israel there has always been and always will be one capital only – Jerusalem the Eternal. Thus it was 3,000 years ago – and thus it will be, we believe, until the end of time.”
Americans For Peace Now spokesperson Debra Shushan told ABC Radio “World Today” (Dec. 7) host Eleanor Hall that “it was the worst thing he could have done” because “of the fallout that that embassy move would have.”
She accused Trump of not being “afraid” to drop a “lit match” onto “what he knows is perhaps the… most significant tinder box in the world” and of relishing “turn[ing] the world on its head and blow[ing] things up.”
Hall deserves credit for pointing out to Shushan that Trump did not call Jerusalem “the undivided capital of Israel” which leaves “room for the US to recognise east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.” Only then did Shushan admit Trump’s speech had backed the two-state solution and been nuanced, but said it “wasn’t enough”.
She also accused Netanyahu of leading the most right wing Israeli government, “doing everything possible… to undermine a two-state solution” through “creeping annexation of the West Bank”.
Declaration of independence
Marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein explained it “reflected a consensus among allied nations of World War I,” not merely Britain.
Critics, he wrote, are wrong to call it an “imperialist act, blaming it for the situation the Palestinians find themselves in today… it is often forgotten that it was not just the origins of the Jewish state that were being put in place after World War I. This was part of a larger process that saw the victorious allies midwife the birth of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen… a Palestinian state could also have arisen, if not for relentless Arab rejectionism,” Australian (Nov. 29).
Nick Doesn’t Cave
Ahead of his first Israel tour in 20 years, Australian music legend Nick Cave’s public repudiation of boycotts of the country received the Fairfax treatment on Nov. 22.
Instead of reporting his robust defence for performing there, the media outlet decided to lead with the denunciation of Cave by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who is the public face of the BDS movement in the music world, and Brian Eno. Cave was given no chance to rebut their arguments.
The report said BDS “lobbies artists to sever ties with Israel in protest of its occupation of Palestine.”
BDS’s goals are not about ending occupation but Israel’s existence through an insistence on an unconditional right of return for anyone who identifies as a Palestinian and wants to live in Israel.
She’s got the look
The Australian reported (Dec. 6) on a Melbourne Jewish woman who said participants at a right wing rally she passed by chanted the names of Nazi death camps when they saw her, asserting that the woman was “readily identifiable as Jewish”.
This is a problematic statement. DNA tests undoubtedly reveal a shared genetic link between Jewish people but this is not reflected in outward physical features. The woman in the published picture could have fitted a range of ethnicities, and there is no way to identify Jewish people by physical appearance alone as the article implied.
Visiting Israeli far-left journalist Gideon Levy acted as an apologist for Hamas whilst speaking to ABC host Emma Alberici, who asked him to explain how Israel could be expected to negotiate with the terror group.
Levy replied, “We cannot come and see asymmetry and say they don’t behave themselves, we don’t behave ourselves. There is no symmetry. There is an occupier and once the occupation will be over, then we can say the Palestinians do this and this wrong. But first, we have to put an end to this… And you know also the word terror should be analysed. Israelis killing in the last war in Gaza 400 women and 400 children. Would you not call this terror? Does this not annoy you as much as the Hamas annoys you?”
Alberici countered that, “But isn’t it also true that Hamas stores its weapons in civilian enclaves? That they make a habit of encircling areas where civilians gather so then when the Israeli Defence Force sends some sort of weapon into that area, of course it is targeting a non-military site, because that is where Hamas puts itself.”
Levy said, “not every argument of the Israeli propaganda should be accepted”, arguing that Hamas had no choice but to operate in civilian areas because Gaza is a small territory – before denying it operates from schools and hospitals even though there is overwhelming evidence of this, ABC TV “Lateline” (Nov. 27).
Levy was also heard on ABC Radio National “Sunday Extra” (Nov. 26) and “Religion and Ethics Report” (Nov. 29). On the latter, Levy dismissed host Andrew West’s question about the “genocidal” threats made by some Palestinians against “Jews”. Absurdly, West called Haaretz, the Israeli paper Levy writes for, one of the world’s most read papers. Haaretz reportedlyhas 18,000 paid digital subscribers. The New York Times has 2 million.
A stitch up
Architect and Palestinian activist Suad Amiry, visiting here to spruik a documentary she appears in about Palestinian needleworkers, was allowed to say anything she liked by ABC host Jonathan Green, who was himself guilty of uttering some factually challenged claims.
Amiry, who runs the “Centre for Architectural Conservation” in Ramallah, said her parents were “thrown out of their home like 90 per cent of the Palestinian population.”
This is wildly inaccurate. Of the 1.3 million Arabs who lived in Mandatory Palestine in 1947, 60% were displaced. Most relocated to areas within Palestine that were under Arab control. Moreover, the majority left their villages of their own volition, often without seeing an Israeli soldier. In many instances Palestinians were told to leave by Arab leaders to make it easier to destroy the Jewish settlements. Of course, whatever the reason, they were displaced because the Arabs rejected a peaceful solution in favour of a war to destroy Israel.
Inexplicably, Green invented his own “alternate history,” saying, “you speak Suad of the many villages that survived 1948 but of course many did not and towns like for example Hebron, Nablus – cities destroyed in that occupation. So there is much destruction.”
Hebron and Nablus were never destroyed and, in fact, were in areas that were largely undamaged during the 1948 war, or, indeed, any subsequent conflict, ABC Radio National “Blueprint for Living” (Nov. 18).
A 3,100 word essay in the Australian Financial Review (Nov. 17) by left-wing Israeli writer Daniella Peled was ostensibly about the recently opened Palestinian Museum in Ramallah but was actually an excuse to put her pro-Palestinian views. Waffling on about Palestinian identity and accusing pro-Israel voices of mocking it and denying its existence, Peled said the Balfour Declaration’s “reassurance” to protect the rights of the Arabs of Palestine “proved worthless”.
“For Palestinians, the birth of Israel in 1948 was the ‘Nakba’ (or ‘catastrophe’) that would underpin their shared identity… in 1967, came another definitive moment in the form of the ‘Naksa’ (or ‘setback’) when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip… Palestinian identity inevitably involves a dialogue based on this past 100 years of history.”
In May 1948, the Palestinian Arabs had a chance to declare their own state at the same time as the Palestinian Jews did and fulfil the promise of the UN Partition Plan for two states.
But, instead, the Palestinian leaders and their neighbouring Arab allies went to war to deny the creation of Israel.
Further, prior to and in the aftermath of the 1967 war, neither Egypt nor Jordan, nor even the Palestinians themselves, showed any interest in creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and in Gaza.
Then there were the 2000, 2001 and 2008 offers of a state made by Israel but rejected or walked away from by Palestinian leaders.
Peled seemed to have no problem with this rejectionist stance and it becomes clear why.
Through a circuitous route that overlooks Hamas’ genocidal views on Jews and discusses the effectiveness of BDS (she says Israel sees this as an “existentialist threat” which she claims “speaks volumes about the Israeli mindset”), Peled expresses admiration for the “definitive Palestinian national trait” of “Summud” (steadfastness).
“They have the patience to wait while Israelis succumb to inertia and the illusory luxury of maintaining the status quo. Instead of merely addressing the issues raised in 1967 with the occupation… the Palestinian answer to Balfour may end up having to confront the legacy of 1948 and the creation of the Jewish state itself.”
This is back to the future propaganda. Wait long enough and the Jewish state, the equivalent of the modern Crusader state, will give up and Israel will dissolve. Doesn’t seem to have worked since it was first spouted 70 years ago. Moreover, it’s an immoral message that will prolong Palestinian suffering.
Lost in transit
In the West Australian travel section (Nov. 16), WA newsreader Rick Ardon wrote of visiting the Western Wall and his wife being told by “Orthodox Jews to leave but times are changing: Israel’s High Court has just allowed women to pray here, despite opposition from the Israeli government.”
Women have always been allowed to pray at the Wall so long as they follow Orthodox traditions of praying in a separate area from the men. The current government reneged on a recent deal for an area for mixed gender prayer, the actual subject of prominent High Court cases.
Ardon also called Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and said the security fence is there to “keep [Israelis] apart from Palestinians”. It’s there to stop terrorists entering Israel.